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Posts Tagged ‘small churches’

Let’s Start Talking approaches churches on almost a daily basis, asking for a few minutes at one of their assemblies to present to that church’s members opportunities  to be involved in short-term missions.  We do not ask for money, we do not ask for any long-term commitments, nor do we ask for anything that would detract from that church’s current mission efforts.   We do not need the sermon time. Class time, time before or after a service, even Wednesday night would be wonderful!

Why is it so hard to get an opportunity to tell the Body of Christ about specific requests from mission churches who are asking for help in telling the story of Jesus to their neighbors?

One of the most common reasons we hear when churches say that now is not a good time is that their mission work/mission committee is not functioning or is in disarray and they don’t know what they are doing, so let them get their act together and they will get back to LST.  I can’t remember when we have ever been called back at a later date by a church that had pulled themselves together.

In the previous post, we talked about questions that a strong church with a good mission program—at least in their own eyes—might ask in order to be sure they were not deceiving themselves, being satisfied with a mediocre mission effort when they desire and are capable of a great mission effort.

Now I’d like to talk with those church leaders/members in smaller churches, with either no real mission program or one in disarray as described above!  Let’s ask some hard questions and see where the answers lead us!

1.       Why is your church small?  Myriad reasons come to mind as to why a church might be small, some perfectly healthy and other reasons very unhealthy.  Some healthier reasons might include being a new church plant, being in an unchurched area where growth is slow. Unhealthy reasons might include because you are the only right ones, or you like to do things one way—your way.  I do challenge you to list ten reasons why your congregation is small—then evaluate those reasons for health.

2.      How are you trying to grow?  And holding Sunday services does not count.

3.       To what part of the Great Commission are you devoting your available resources?  Sherrylee and I met with a church recently in a resort area that often has no more than five members present, yet they rent a church building for Sundays and pray mostly for Christian tourists to attend. After the service the 4-5 members all went out to eat together, without inviting any of us guests to go with them.  Does this picture feel wrong to you?

4.       What could you do that would increase your “strength”? Could you merge with another church? I was in a small Texas town of about 1500 people recently that had four churches of Christ listed in the phone book. I believe we went to the largest with a membership of about 150. I wonder how long it has been since anyone made overtures about merging with any of the other congregations?   My only solace was that the Baptist had 17 churches in the same phonebook.  Human frailty is not denominational.

5.       What opportunities do you have because you are small that a large church might not have? What if the whole church supported that one young person or the just-retired couple to prepare for missions!  You don’t have anyone?—then why don’t you adopt a new Christian who has a strong desire to serve abroad, but no church home.  Find them through one of the Christian university mission departments.

I’ve worshipped in many small churches all over the world.  Small is not the same as weak.  The fact that eighty percent of American churches of Christ have fewer than a hundred members is often quoted as an excuse, but I keep hearing the words of the Messenger to the little church in Asia Minor, which he described as having just a “little strength.”  To this church he says, “I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut!” (Revelation 3:8)

Rethinking your mission efforts may start—for large or for small churches—with rethinking who you are and why you exist at all.  I do believe that when you know why it is worth all the time and effort to be church together, you will have a much better perspective for pursuing the mission of every church!

 

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Sherrylee and I are on a 40th Anniversary vacation road trip!  And I want you to come along with us, so I think I will include regular updates on our road trip, starting with Friday, April 9.

Saturday, we flew in from Omaha on an earlier flight, so we decided to just hit the road and go until about 10pm—got as far as Wichita Falls!

Sunday, we had a 12-hour trip in front of us, so it was very tempting not to stop for church. We drove away from Wichita Falls, thinking that we would do a Rick Atchley podcast in the car and break bread together (seriously) at Crackerbarrel along the way—BUT, about 10:15, we were driving through these very dry, little West Texas towns when Sherry said, “Let’s stop at the next church we see!”  I agreed and within 60 seconds we saw a sign for the Church of Christ in Chillicothe, Texas, so we decided to stop there.

I asked for directions at a convenience store and a woman offered to guide us to the church, for which we were grateful. (Interestingly enough, she later appeared at church—I don’t think she had been planning to go—at least she didn’t say she was going at the store—so maybe we helped encourage her to go!)

We walked into the Bible study—and there were six people there! The preacher was leading the study of the Lord’s Prayer. I noticed on their Attendance sign—you know the one that says “This Sunday”, Last Sunday, and Offering in black letters that slide on and off—that the attendance last week was 41.

I don’t believe there are even six degrees of separation in our church tribe! Here we were 200 miles away from home, having Bible study with six complete strangers, and would you believe that as we were visiting after the class—you don’t slip in without being seen in  churches like this!—one of the women there had attended church for many years with Sherrylee’s sister and brother-in-law in Arlington, Texas, and knew them well.

The auditorium was built for 200, so nobody sat on the first 7 or 8 rows except the two men who would later serve communion.  You could tell they were the communion servers because they were dressed in gray suits and ties and their best boots.

An elder (not an Elder anymore because the other Elder had died) made announcements that two sisters 91 and 94 years old had been visited and were doing well. By the way, there would be a potluck next Sunday to celebrate Sister ____’s 90th birthday.  Are you getting the picture?  But to be fair, at least two families with children showed up for worship—at least one set were great-grandchildren, if I observed correctly—and a lot of the people were kin!

We sang from songbooks—nothing more electronic than the microphone in sight. All the men present served communion, including the preacher!  The prayers were of the “guide, guard, and direct us” variety.  Psalm 100 was the text for the sermon which was an excellent exhortation to worship the Lord meaningfully, to “shout to the Lord”!  I couldn’t imagine anyone shouting in this crowd—but we did do a responsive reading as a trial run.

I was glad we were there! It reminded me that perseverance takes many forms, but they lead to godliness. Most of these saints had been faithful for a long lifetime! Sure their “liturgy” was often in the same language of their grandparents—but so are the liturgies of high churches that are in such vogue now! I don’t doubt their prayers of concern for the “sick and afflicted” were as heartfelt as those in more post-modern words.

They sang, they broke the bread and drank the cup and remembered Christ!  They were VERY friendly and concerned about their congregation.  Their preacher is moving in two weeks, so they are looking for someone retired because they can’t offer full support. They do have a parsonage.

But they also would really like to have a bi-lingual retiree to preach for them! They want to reach out to the growing Hispanic population.  This is a mission-minded church!!

I’m grateful for every little struggling group of Christians, whether they are in houses or 1950’s church buildings, whether they use praise songs written in this millennium or the last, whether they create their own liturgy each week or use more comfortable words of saints before them. I’m thankful for their faithful witness, for their benevolence—whether they have a program or just call it being a neighbor!

I’m so glad we went to church in Chillicothe, Texas!

 

 

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